"American Gun" misfires in trying to chart the collateral damage and paranoia triggered by the epidemic of gun-related violence in the U.S. Despite flashy use of desaturated color and variegated editing techniques, this debut feature by helmer and co-writer Aric Avelino lacks focus and momentum as it attempts to interweave diverse story strands into a cautionary tapestry.

Skittishly paced and dramatically diffuse, “American Gun” misfires in trying to chart the collateral damage and paranoia triggered by the epidemic of gun-related violence in the U.S. Despite flashy use of desaturated color and variegated editing techniques, this debut feature by helmer and co-writer Aric Avelino lacks focus and momentum as it attempts to interweave diverse story strands into a cautionary tapestry. Strong cast may lure homevid aud, but theatrical prospects are low-caliber.

Pic boasts standout performances by Forest Whitaker as Carter, a Chicago high school principal dealing with the proliferation of guns on campus; and Marcia Gay Harden as Janet, a depressed Oregon mother who remains a local pariah three years after her late teen son’s Columbine-style rampage.

While Janet worries about the future for her surviving son (Christopher Marquette), and one of Carter’s brightest students (Arlen Escarpeta) prepares a fake firearm for protection during his graveyard-shift job at a service station, other plots percolate. Frank (well-cast Tony Goldwyn), a cop who responded to the emergency call when Janet’s son began firing on fellow students, continues to deal with guilt and rage as locals second-guess his actions during the crisis. Off in Virginia, gun-store owner Carl (Donald Sutherland) finds it difficult to connect with granddaughter Mary Ann (Linda Cardellini), a college student who overcomes her aversion to firearms only after a friend is date-raped.

Sequences involving Harden and Marquette are the film’s most interesting, and could have been fleshed out in separate pic. Unfortunately, Avelino chooses to end this plotline with an arbitrarily ironic twist. Other resolutions feel decidedly anti-climactic, forcing one to wonder if the filmmaker was trying a little too hard to avoid the predictable.

American Gun

Production

An IFC Films production in association with Participant Films. Produced by Ted Kroeber. Executive producers, Jeff Skoll, Chris Adams, Forest Whitaker, Jonathan Sehring, Caroline Kaplan, Holly Becker. Co-producer: Arlene Gibbs. Directed by Aric Avelino. Screenplay, Avelino, Steven Bagatourian.

Crew

Camera (color), Nancy Schreiber; editor, Richard Nord; music, Peter Golub; production designer, Devorah Herbert; set decorator, Traci Spadorcia; sound, Lori Dovi; assistant director, Lou Tocchet. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 12, 2005. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Carl - Donald Sutherland Carter - Forest Whitaker Janet - Marcia Gay Harden Mary Ann - Linda Cardellini Frank - Tony Goldwyn David - Christopher Marquette Tally - Nikki Reed Jay - Arlen Escarpeta Sarah - Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon Mouse - Amanda Seyfried Louise - Melissa Leo
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